2012, Volume 15, Research Articles

Cultural-Historical Borderlands: ...Early Childhood Community

Article Index

nzrece journal


Original Research Note
© ChildForum 

Full reference
Quiñones, G. (2012).  Cultural-historical borderlands: Common grounds, limits and building bridges in an early childhood community. NZ Research in Early Childhood Education Journal, 15, 160 - 175. http://www.childforum.com/research/2012-nzrece-journal-articles/895-cultural-historical-borderlands-early-childhood-community.html


Cultural-Historical Borderlands: Common Grounds, Limits and Building Bridges in an Early Childhood Community 

Gloria Quinones
Monash University, Australia



This paper discusses how early childhood education may be understood and experienced as a cultural-historical borderland, where mental borders and limits are made by people. Drawing on border theory and cultural-historical theory, different perspectives are considered in the study reported here on understanding the challenges and hopes that a community in a village of El Cañon in the state of Nuevo Leon, Mexico had in relation to early childhood education. The findings show how within a group of mothers borders were created. There were mothers who valued and created ‘common grounds’ through supporting early childhood services and there were other mothers who created ‘limits’ to early childhood services by not supporting the male teacher. Hedegaard's (2008) model of learning and development through participation in institutionalised practice was used to analyse differences in perspectives. Digital video observations (Fleer, 2008) and their narratives (Fleer, 2010) were analysed to show how ‘crossing borders’ might bring ‘common ground’ and ‘limits’ to early childhood education. This paper reports and discusses the ‘conflict’, ‘limits’ and ‘borders’ that the community experienced.

 Key words: Culture, community, relationships, male teacher



We live in a time and space in which borders, both literal and figurative, exist everywhere... A border maps limits; it keeps people in and out of an area; it marks the ending of a safe zone and the beginning of an unsafe zone. To confront a border and, more so, to cross a border presumes great risk. In general people fear and are afraid to cross borders (Morales, cited in Lugo, 1996, p. 43).

The concept of ‘borders’ is discussed in relation limiting views and how through language we are able to create borders and limits within the spaces in which we live with others. Border crossing involves people’s feelings and uncertainties as to what is on the other side. Taking the metaphor of ‘border’ this paper argues how the concept of borderlands is important in recognising who is ‘out’ and ‘in’ and how a middle ground zone may be created.

The goal of this paper is to understand how people create such borderlands in an early childhood community and how parents are able to create a middle ground for the early childhood services in a rural distant community. Identifying perspectives is important to understand the different groups of people that remain in the ‘other’ side of the border and those that have crossed it and are in it.

The aim of the research reported here was to investigate what kind of borders, limits and common grounds are foregrounded in the views of different groups of mothers at a kindergarten and in relation to early childhood education.


Understanding borderlands 

Researchers such as Johnson and Michaelsen (1997), Lugo (2007), Pike (2006) point to how conceptual borderlands separate people and countries rather than unite them. Re-theorizing the border and borderlands from a cultural–historical theory provides a way of looking at differences within a whole and integral perspective.  

Lugo (2007) explains how the concept of borderland is “vague and undetermined, and always transitional” (p. 107). Borderlands have been conceptualised as unfamiliar places (Mattingly, 2008) and lacking totality and wholeness (Michaelsen & Johnson, 1997). Borders connote “something” between two things, something that divides people geographically and physically (Anzaldua, 1999; Johnson and Michaelsen, 1997).

Studies that use the notion of borders have considered this to be a ‘political construct’ (Brah, 1996, p. 165), and as being “inside and outside a territory” (Adams, 2006, p. 2). The binaries and oppositions that borders create reflect the individual’s state of being inside and outside a boundary.

What if ‘they’ are inside the wall, and ‘we’ outside it? Who is to say who is outside and who is inside?” (p. 3) ... Who is inside the border? Who is outside? (Pike, 2006, p. 5)

Border situations can represent places of conflict or places of common ground (Mattingly, 2008). Different spaces can become border zones, for example Mattingly (2008) explained how the culture and language in a hospital can create border situations between patients and doctors.

This paper reports on a boarder situation in an early childhood service community and looks at this through a cultural-historical perspective lens using cultural–historical theory (Vygotsky, 1998).  Vygotsky challenged the dualisms of behavioural psychology (separation of body and mind; individual and social context) and transcended the separation of the individual from the social world. His theory foreground dialectical processes of the individual and the social situation and experiences.

Cultural–historical theory uses dialectical logic understood as the unity of this opposites, separation of the subject from the world and the material world through mediation (by signs, symbols, language) as a third space where the individual and the social world meet and unite. In this transformation and unity of the mind and the social world, signs, symbols and language become how “we incorporate and transform in our travels, from perspectives on our history and where we have been, to new interpretations and possible futures” (Vadeboncoeur, Hirst & Kostogriz, 2006, p. 170 - 171).

Stetsenko (2005) explains how people transform in their everyday lives through social and historical processes:

...the individual and the world indeed cease to be separate realities. Instead, they now appear as manifold (not just two-fold) moments of the same process of activity development.

....the reality of practical collaborative transformations of the world from which they originate and also participate in, performing this reality and being performed by it, as they enact and carry on this practice (p. 84).

In cultural-historical theory, the mental and the social world of people are not separates but in unity or as Stetsenko explains “manifold” within each other. Bakhurst (2007) points out how in Vygotsky’s dialectical method everything in time must be understood in its own development.  In relating to Vygotsky’s writing he explains how, to them, studying something meant studying it in motion and studying its dynamics.

Vygotsky’s dialectical conception of human thought is developed not from the individual to the social, but from the social to the individual in a manifold process. A cultural-historical borderland means making visible borders and in unity of the individual (unity of intellect and affect, emotional processes) within the social world (including the places, lands and areas in which a person lives in). The unity of the individual within the social world is one manifold process to study the totality and wholeness of a border.

A cultural-historical borderland approach to understanding perspectives makes visible the limits and conflictin people’s social practices and their realities. It also becomes possible to explore how, as in the case of an early childhood education, people within a community may create common ground in forming understandings of early childhood education.  

Preschool education in Mexico

Provision for preschool education in Mexico has expanded rapidly over recent years. Until the eighties rural preschool education in Mexico was established through community programmes such as CONAFE. Rural preschool education starts when children are three years old. In this community, children attended kindergarten for three hours, from nine to midday.

As part of the Mexican Preschool Reform (Decreto Poder Ejecutivo, 2002) preschool education was made compulsory by the Mexican Government and President. Preschool Education became compulsory for the following periods: third year of preschool (5- 6 years old) from 2004 – 2005, the second year of preschool (4 – 5 years old) from 2005 – 2006 and for the first year of preschool (3 – 4 years old) from 2008 – 2009 (Decreto Poder Ejecutivo, 2002). 

Preschool education covers the ages of 3 to 6 years. In Mexico children start Primary school when they are 6 years old. In this rural community, preschool was referred as rural kindergarten and the children that attended ranged from ages 4 to 5 years. This was multi-age kindergarten and four children out of 24 attended the kindergarten.

This study took place in 2009 and as part of the preschool reform it was compulsory for children from ages 5 to 6 to have a preschool certificate to attend primary. However as it is discussed later in the findings it can be seen how the other mothers who had children that did not attend were not aware of this issue. Children that did not attend the kindergarten still attended primary school the following year.




The research presented here on teacher and mother perspectives on early childhood education was a sub-study of a larger Ph.D. study.

The kindergarten teacher agreed to participate in the study and notified families about the research for their informed consent to participate.

The study took place at a kindergarten in the ejido (or village in English) in a rural community in Mexico.  “El Cañon” (pseudonym) is approximately eighty kilometres from the city of Monterrey. The educational system in place is CONAFE Consejo Nacional Federal which is established in rural communities in Mexico. The CONAFE preschool system serves, primarily, children in villages with less than 500 inhabitants (Yoshikawa, McCartney, Myers, Bub, Lugo-Gil, Ramos, & Knaul, 2007). Around thirty families lived in El Cañon.

CONAFE (Consejo Nacional de Fomento Educativo) was created by the Secretary of Public Education in 1980 and was a pioneer programme created for marginalised communities (Garcia et al., 2003). CONAFE preschool system serves, primarily, children in villages with less than 500 inhabitants and aims to reduce social inequalities in Mexico (Garza et al., 2005, cited in Yoshikawakazu et al., 2007). This programme aims to give preschool education to marginalised urban communities, rural and indigenous, to children of 4 and 5 years and usually is imparted from Monday to Friday for about four hours (Garcia, et al., 2003).

The CONAFE kindergarten is run by parents and community elders and parents provide assistance to the teacher (Garza, 2005, cited in Yoshikawa, et al., 2007; SEP, 2011). CONAFE provided economical support to parents by providing materials and furniture for kindergarten.  The teacher is given an economical support of around $871.00 pesos (80 AU dlls.). When the study took place the teacher was living in a small room in the kindergarten and meals were provided by mothers (this is further discussed in the finidngs section).

Teachers are referred as ‘tecnicos promotores’ ‘technical promoters’ (SEP, 2003; Garza, 2005, cited in Yoshikawa et al., 2007) and more recently ‘instructores comunitarios’ community instructors (SEP, 2011). Usually these young teachers have no formal experience in teaching. The CONAFE program is based on scholarship funding for teacher upon a year of completion of teaching in the community (Garza, 2005, cited in Yoshikawa et al., 2007).

One of the challenges presented to the teachers is that the demands of the programme are about recruiting. Garza notes “the demands of the CONAFE programme (community residence and participation) may make it difficult for the programme to attract the best candidates for its scholarship” (Garza, 2005, p.11, cited in Yoshikawa, ). The challenges are not only for the teacher but as well enrolment of children; Garza highlights this problematic “enrolment rates for indigenous groups are considerably lower than for urban middle class or non-indigenous groups” (p.11).  

Method and analysis

Data collection was carried out for three weeks within a period of two months.  The methodology used was qualitative research and the method of data collection was digital video observations (Fleer, 2008). Digital observations make possible to visually document conflicts between institutions and document different perspectives (Fleer, 2008).

As the researcher lived in the community, the video camera became part of her every day attempt to record the teacher’s (kindergarten) perspective and mother’s view (family institution).

This paper reports on the narratives obtained from mothers and the kindergarten teacher. The comments from teacher Leo were obtained through a series of semi- structured interviews and debriefings at the end of the day. The casual conversations with Gina occurred when visiting Mayra (five-year-old child). Mayra was the focus child in this study and the conversations happen while visiting and studying the everyday life of Mayra. The conversations with Maria occurred while following Mayra to the community store where Maria worked and were she told the stories about the teacher.

This study had ethical permission and the researcher asked the teacher and mothers if she could use this information for the study and they verbally agreed. The video recordings were transcribed and translated when the field data generation ended. In this Mexican community, the trust given to the researcher and the verbal and written agreement were important.

The conversations captured their views along with what was happening in their communities at that moment of time. The data is analysed in tables using Hedegard’s (2009) model to show the multiple perspectives – societal, institutional – families (mothers) and teacher individual perspectives of how they were placing borders and common ground towards the teacher. This allows the reader to make their own interpretation in relation to the data and provides a wholeness approach to show the complexities of the early childhood system in a rural community in Mexico.

Theoretical approach

A cultural – historical dialectical methodology recognises the complexity of looking at the world. Bang (2008) explains it as the “complex dynamic nature of the world, developing tools for describing it and conceiving it” (p. 47). Bang (2008) discusses how a cultural-historical dialectical approach is concerned with the dynamics of the environment and the individual - time, space, geography and life is all dynamic.

A wholeness approach (Hedegaard, 2008) was adopted in this study to assist with examining societal influences, institutional practice and individual perspectives. It concerns the child’s everyday institutional settings (such as family and school) and three different perspectives (society, institutional and individual) for studying children (see Figure 1 below).

[See the printed journal paper for Figure 1]

Figure 1. A model of the ‘wholeness’ approach to understanding children’s learning and development through participation in institutional practice.

In Figure 1, the ‘society or State perspective’ refers to the macro perspective of the practices that children participate in at home and school and also the laws and regulations that inform institutional practice. The ‘institutional perspective’ refers to practice traditions in these institutions and how the society perspective influence practice traditions. The ‘individual perspective’ refers to the individual person participating in these institutions. ‘Values and motives’ refer to the practice tradition in the institution. Motives are related to the intentions, projects and orientations the child has and how these intentions could create conflict to the child, parents and teacher.

Fleer (2010) explains how narrative knowledge “values multiple perspectives in which the world can be simultaneously understood through different lenses” (p. 73). The findings reported in this paper are discussed in relation to the common grounds created by the mothers and the limits the teacher felt in relation to the other mothers in the community.



On the first day of field work the researcher had an informal interview with the teacher, Leo. Leo, the first male teacher in the community explained his experience with the CONAFE system and how he understood the system. In informal interviews the mothers Gina and Maria expressed the problematic around the community on how there were 24 children but only four attended the kindergarten. Gina and Maria explained why they supported the teacher. There were common grounds created between the mothers that valued their children’s education and they talked of what they perceived to be the limits, borders and conflicts placed by the mother’s that didn’t value it.

Gina and Maria who valued early childhood education wondered the causes of the teacher and a system that left them at one point for a month without access to kindergarten for their children. 

Building common ground: Support given to the teacher

From an institutional perspective, the State provides kindergarten teachers with three years of scholarship for further studies upon completion of one year of teaching in a rural community. From a societal perspective, a teacher unknown to a community is placed within it for one year. Upon arrival to the community the teacher needs to find a place to live and talk to mothers about meals.

In Table One the multiple perspectives (societal, institutional and individual) and their narratives of mother Gina and teacher Leo are summarised.

Table 1. Expectations for Mothers to Support the Teacher







Economic support for travel, food and accommodation for training sessions (CONAFE, 2010).

"Parents and community are key elements for optimal implementation of such programs, and who are responsible for operating it." (SEP, 2003, p.63)

"The demands of the program CONAFE (community residence and participation) makes it difficult to attract the best candidates for this scholarship (scholarship in exchange for a full year of teaching in CONAFE kindergarten).

Teacher: I had previously being placed in “El Portal” and my brother “La Casablanca”, and they closed their doors, they didn’t support us and they told us we were coming here ...

With food I don’t have any problem because I asked the mothers if they could help me with feeding me and they told me that there wasn’t any problem ...

Gina: It’s like when the teacher ends the school term they send another so then they say the same thing to him that he has to stay and he needs his meals and we (mothers) we'll fix it, four or five or six mothers, you give one week, then the other one then like that.

R: What do they ask you when the teacher gets here?

Gina: We give him to eat. For example, today it’s my turn Monday through Friday, lunch and dinner then the week finishes and someone else is next.... that’s how we decide. When the teacher is here we have to give him his meals only and well he stays in the small room in the school...

Gina: What one thinks is that they came with a lot of will, the ones from the hacienda (another community) they gave them a bad face (they didn’t treat him well) to his brother they didn’t give him to eat... We did what was possible so he could stay and survive...

The different perspectives show how the CONAFE SYSTEM placed demands on the teacher and the mothers. The motives behind the acceptance of the system show how the mothers like Gina value having a teacher for their child’s kindergarten education.

Figure 2. A mother providing a meal to the teacher [see the printed article for Figure 2].


The mothers that had their children in the kindergarten changed their daily practices to accommodate the meal times of the teacher. The basic needs of surviving, eating and having a place to sleep are not as simple as the CONAFE system portrays in their laws and regulations. In this community the teacher expressed how he didn’t have a problem but in a neighbouring community he and his brother had because they couldn’t support them with meals.  The mothers are key elements for the successful implementation of the kindergarten programme as although it is established by the State the situation allows for common ground to form and for the teacher and mothers to do the best they can with the resources available.

Gina explains how they did their best to support the teacher and this was through their support with meals, she explains “we did what was possible so he could stay and survive”.  In doing so this created common ground between the mothers that valued early childhood education. The social situation was that without a teacher there wasn’t a kindergarten.

Placing borders and limits: The relationship between the male teacher, children not attending kindergarten and attendance being mandatory

The Mexican government has made preschool mandatory in kindergartens in Mexico. Maria explained “we understand many of the parents are not going to accept that the kindergarten is now mandatory” and these parents are the ones which their children are not attending the kindergarten.

Not only did many mothers not take their children to kindergarten, they didn’t understand that preschool was mandatory and didn’t want their children to interact with a male teacher.  Gina and Maria explained how the community responded to a male teacher and the ‘whispers’ that were some of the possible reasons that led him to leave the community – he left the kindergarten because of medical reasons after staying for two months. Even though this was stated by him to be the reason, the mothers remained sceptical of this.  

The teacher knew that it was law for children to attend kindergarten from three years of age. He also knew that the minimum number of children in the kindergarten was four or the kindergarten could be closed. A combination of the teacher being a male, children not attending the kindergarten and the teacher leaving the community after two months placed borders and limits to this community. The different perspectives are shown in Table 2.

Table 2. The relationship between the teacher being a man, children not attending kindergarten and attendance being mandatory







Article 3. Everyone has the right to receive education. The state-federal, state, District Federal and municipalities, provide preschool, primary and secondary.  Preschool, primary and secondary education is mandatory (in Spanish obligatoria)

II. a IV. TRANSITORIES. FIFTH. Pre-school education is mandatory (in Spanish obligatoria).

(Decreto, Poder Ejecutivo, 2002).

M: In reality I am the first male teacher who has come here. There were all female teachers. There are several children who they don’t want to send, eight children that have to be in the preschool and they took a child that was five years old and now I have four children, he was three years old he came and cried and he started crying and the mother asked to be taken and now I only have four and we are in danger that the preschool closes in the community, that is the only problem I have  that they close the community, because what I know is that four children is the minimal quantity that we can have and if we have three children they have to close it at any case. We can’t do anything, we have to wait for more children to come so we can reopen it in the community...

R: Do parents know?

M: The parents know as I understand it, the mothers of those children they explained me that they know that they have to be in the kínder and I told them yes they have to be, they have to be in the kínder since they are three, in the preschool they have I told them and they say it’s better when they are in second grade (of kindergarten usually 4 years old) and there is a parent that says one or two that they are going to put them directly to primary..

Even the child that lives next to the kinder, he is three and a half to my knowledge, that child should be in preschool. The mother, when I came to do my training she supported me with the child they send the child when I came to do my training of two days they send the child and he was happy, but now that I came to teach classes she doesn’t want to send him... because he is very small, I don’t know because he is small, I also have heard  out there that it’s because I am a male teacher and that doesn’t have to do anything at all, female teacher teach the same, that hasn’t to do with anything, they trust more a woman

María: They also felt bad because they didn’t have more children in school because they said it was a male teacher because there are girls, “I do not send them because it’s a male teacher”... maybe they feel bad about trying to take advantage with the girls and I say because of that ... Another problem is girls' school because the teacher was a man has to accept me ... What we say is not right that this is your child they are alone or anything (meaning alone and no teacher) we understand many of the parents are not going to accept that the kindergarten is now mandatory ...

Doing whatever is possible to keep the teacher so he could stay and like it... In addition in the school [primary] are men ... the school [in primary children have male teachers] they say we will not accept any child who has not been in preschool and you came as a parent you cannot deny the study to your children...

Gina: is because the teacher and  her little girl is still small and when she walks to the toilet she takes off all her clothes and that's why, they are male teachers and they say no ... [explaining how the teacher can see the girl without clothing]

Well, what else do we do that here we suffer in this town?

When there is no teacher people are not happy when suddenly you have a teacher they push him away, oh well, the teacher says (he left the community) because it was his asthma and then I am interested that Mayra I want her to finish well the kinder... they need a teacher in the kinder ... I didn’t (study). I almost finish primary because I never liked so I want them to go...

The mothers who did not send their children to kindergarten placed borders into their children’s lives because they reportedly could not trust a male teacher. However, Maria wondered about the concerns as there were male teachers teaching at the primary school.

The teacher explained that gender should not be a problem as gender does not affect the ability to teach and be a teacher, but in terms of trust it did make a difference to the mothers.  Gina valued education and wondered what the real reasons were for the teacher leaving; was it because he was sick? Or because the community didn’t trust him as he was man? The teacher and mothers mentioned it was because he was a man. This shows how the impact of being a man affected the teacher and how he mentions this did not have anything to do in relation to education, “a female teacher teaches the same as man”, he said. At the end, both Maria and Gina, agreed it was because he was a man and some of the reasons was because the other mothers placed limits to his gender status, he could possibly abuse or take advantage of the girls in the community.

Even so, the society perspective discusses the importance of everyone’s right to education and kindergarten being mandatory, the complexities experienced in the community with male figure shows something different.



This paper discussed the different perspectives such as the societal, family and kindergarten in how a cultural – historical borderland is created – placing limits and common grounds.  In a community, individuals are able to divide and value early childhood education. By dividing who is in and out, who are in a safe or unsafe zone multiple perspectives are needed in order to understand the challenges and problematic a community has.

The mothers that were ‘in’ the system valued education for their children. Some of the demands placed by the system on the mothers, such as providing meals and accommodation to the teacher,  created possibilities for negotiation and common ground to be found among the mothers interested in education. The mothers that valued early childhood education are in a safe border and show this through their actions, trusting a male teacher, providing a place and meals. The mothers that are out of the border in relation to what the system offers do not share common ground with the mothers who value education and the teacher. The mothers that were not part of the kindergarten had another perspective of what early childhood meant for them such as not mandatory, not trusting the teacher because he was a male teacher, and this in turn placed the kindergarten at risk of closure.

The preschool law of kindergarten being mandatory is understood differently in this community. Some mothers valued children’s early childhood education and create common grounds to support the teacher such as assisting him. The other mothers created limits and did not fully understand the teacher’s role.

In this study, the teacher was in the middle, between the two groups of mothers.  The inside mothers built common grounds but it was difficult to have mothers that didn’t support him and more so by living within a small rural community environment. The teacher expressed how he hoped to be trusted, because in his view female and male teachers teach the same. The insider mother, Maria, explained her feelings and frustration on how they [outsider mothers] didn’t understand that kindergarten is compulsory and their children needed to attend in order for them to be accepted into primary school. 

These different perspectives, intentions, motives and values in relation to early childhood education created a borderland community. This community had border and limits that needed to be changed. From a State perspective, the mothers not supporting early childhood education needed to be encouraged to see the value of it for their children.



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This research was conducted as part of my doctoral studies. I wish to thank teachers, families, children, and community of “El Cañon”. I would also like to thank my supervisor Professor Marilyn Fleer and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful suggestions in the earlier version of this paper. I would like to acknowledge CONACYT Mexico and MGS Monash University for permitting full time doctoral research study.


About the Author

Gloria Quiñones is a lecturer in the Faculty of Education, Monash University, Australia. She has researched family and teaching practices, children’s play, science and technology in early childhood settings in Mexico and Australia. Gloria uses cultural-historical theory to understand the role of emotion in children’s learning and development. Gloria is currently researching with Dr. Avis Ridgway pre-service teacher’s understandings of play and pedagogy. Her PhD focuses on how perezhivanie/vivencia occurs in the everyday life of children.



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